Safety commitment & Altitude concerns
Safety, our constant commitment
Safety is a core value of Terra Group and remains the top priority of our agencies. To travel safely is a legitimate expectation of all clients and a responsibility we take very seriously at Terra. Ensuring the safety of passengers as well as the accompanying teams (guides, drivers etc.) and all our employees can only be achieved in compliance with guidelines and clear rules.
We operate best practices in Terra, including appropriate training for staff and guides with due consideration for issues like altitude sickness and accident prevention in particular, and that documents and security papers are in order to achieve our overall goal.
"The safety of our passengers is a daily commitment."
Safety is and remains our priority
Ensuring the safety of our passengers can only be achieved by the commitment of us all and is a priority of our management.
Security is an ongoing concern, fundamental in our preparation and delivery of our operations.
Equipment (vehicles, mountain equipment etc.) is checked before each group and of course, cleaned and reviewed after each expedition and ready for their next use. The care we take is inseparable from the identity of Terra and its ethics.
The inherent risks associated with travel in high altitudes are integrated in a systematic evaluation and prevention policy. We share our experience with our customers in providing advice prior to departure to enable them to be fully prepared for their stay in altitude.
The results of our vigilance are made possible through the joint action of our staff with strong involvement and consistent mobilisation in all our activities whether they be in sales, reservations or ground operations.
Acute moutain sickness (commonly know as ’Altitude sickness’ or in South America - ’Sorojchi’)
For more infos about altitude issues, please visit www.altitude.org
Acute Mountain Sickness, What is it?
The main cause of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a too rapid rise in altitude. Most cases are minor and consist of headaches (96% of cases), heavy fatigue, significant sleep disorders (35% of cases), dizziness, loss of appetite and nausea, and often irritability.
These symptoms usually appear within 6 to 24 hours of staying at altitude depending on your individual threshold (it can be seen in some people from 2500 metres high). If the trekker continues to rise in altitude, serious complications can occur: pulmonary edema (cough, sputum, blue lips and respiratory failure) and cerebral edema (severe headache not relieved by aspirin, vomiting, eye disorders, and psychiatric disorders sometimes).
AMS: Why does it occur?
At altitude, atmospheric pressure (ie the oxygen pressure) decreases: there are fewer oxygen molecules available for the body in the same volume of air. The amount of oxygen available at 3000 metres high is two thirds that of the sea level, and at 5000 metres high, it is the half.
The body responds by this lack of oxygen (or hypoxia) with various mechanisms: an immediate reaction, and which will last a few days, is to increase ventilation and heart rate in an attempt to capture more oxygen in the air and transport it faster to the body parts that need them.
Both are costly for the body in terms of energy since they are going to make the respiratory muscles and heart work harder. They will be replaced or supplemented by a more economical mechanism: the increase in the number of oxygen transporters, red blood cells produced by bone marrow. The production of these red blood cells may take at least a week staying at a sufficient altitude, to see them increasing in the blood.
Ventilation and heart rate will then decrease, but without returning to baseline. Most trekkers in a good healthy condition acclimate themselves correctly to the altitude without complications, provided they follow some simple rules.
The Golden Rules of Acclimatisation
- Gradual increase in altitude:The great rule of thumb is not going too fast, nor ascend too high: 300 to 500 m of vertical drop per day on average beyond 3500 metres high, the important thing being the altitude difference between the consecutive nights (crossing a pass during the day may require a higher rise, but you have to sleep down below). If you feel good and if you can, once you’ve arrived at the camp, go 200 to 300 metres higher stay an hour and go back.
- Do not make unnecessary physical or reckless efforts. Do not make overly strenuous efforts even if you feel fit "to test yourself" at the beginning of Acclimatisation. This can promote the development of AMS.
- Drink enough water (make sure you are hydrated and have clear urine)
- Do not take sleeping pills, which promote respiratory pauses during sleep, which aggravates hypoxia.
Another important reflex to avoid complications: if you are sick at altitude it is AMS until proven otherwise! It is folly to say you have a headache because you walked in the sun without a hat, you vomited because the eggs were not fresh the day before ... Denying the diagnosis, while often considered offensive to a well-trained athlete, can lead to disaster. Physical fitness and acclimatisation are two independent phenomena. Be honest and report any symptoms to our management team (coaches or guide). Our staff with whom you share your trek or ascent, have great experience in the field, and will be able to advise you.
- Last golden rule: Never leave someone suffering from AMS alone in their tent or by the roadside.
If you feel bad (with the exception of headache relieved by aspirin), you have to stop climbing and rest up. If signs persist, then you must go 300 to 400 metres down and not resume the next day unless the signs have disappeared. Otherwise, you must stop the trek.
In any case, it will be up to your accompanying guide to make the decision whether to let you continue the trek.
Other helpful tips:
- Good physical training before leaving does not protect the AMS, but is obviously desirable, because if we add the fatigue and lack of training and the fatigue caused by the AMS, then we suffer twice! We recommend in preparation that you exercise, do some cycling (which promotes endurance) and hiking in the mountains or hills available to you.
- Avoid being deficient in iron, which is common for vegetarians and women, because iron is needed to make red blood cells.
Many people use a drug, the Diamox (acetazolamide). This medication definitely improves acclimatisation (ask your doctor for prescription). Its main effect is to stimulate pulmonary ventilation, but it is also a diuretic (like hydration without a sense of thirst). As the action takes 12 to 24 hours to develop, it will be much more effective in prevention.
When should I use it?
When the rules we’ve outlined above cannot be met, eg: arrival in La Paz or climbing peaks with quick ascents in high altitude, or for people with a history of repeated AMS. Its use is not justified for a person who has a prior or normal tolerance to altitude and who follows the usual rules of acclimatisation.
1 month before departure
We ask you to please make a visit to your local doctor to perform an exercise test and issue a certificate of fitness in respect of being able to trek or climb in mountains at high altitudes. This document will be required by our management team and should be supplied to them upon your arrival.